Gordon’s 2022 Bordeaux Vintage Report
Posted on: 05/17/23 3:48 PM
Back to the Future: 2022 Bordeaux Vintage Report
It’s the time of year when we’re about to start seeing Bordeaux futures releases from the major chateaux, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to (unusually) not try and sell you some Bordeaux on a Monday morning… Instead, we’re sharing my vintage report following our visit to taste the 2022 barrel samples. Lots more detail below, but the headline is that this is certainly a serious vintage, which the Bordelais are extremely excited about. Of course, they do have something of a habit of getting excited, so it’s important to put things in their proper context. We will only see prices as the individual wines are released, and as ever, this element will be critical to the success of the vintage, and the extent to which we will be encouraging everyone to buy. That said, I love Bordeaux futures, I buy at least a handful of wines for myself every year, and the 2022s are potentially of very high quality indeed. So, I’m hopeful that we could be in for a fun and busy campaign.
As ever, throughout the releases, please do let us know if we can help with any advice or guidance, or with any questions. If you are a regular futures buyer from us, you should see things ‘live’ as they come. Otherwise, we will send regular recaps of availability to our entire list.Check out our collection of 2022 Bordeaux Futures.
The Current State of Bordeaux en Primeur
I’m writing this from the terminal at Bordeaux airport, having just finished a full week of tasting the about to be released 2022 vintage. I was accompanied by Stephen Fehnel from our sales team, and we have tasted nearly 200 individual wines over six days, many of them multiple times. Before I get into my specific thoughts about the vintage, I want to start by sharing a couple of thoughts I have about where I feel we are with Bordeaux and the en primeur system today.
Firstly, to me this remains the single most fun, exciting, and rewarding way to buy wine, both as a professional and as a consumer. There is a thrill to buying a case of wine at its birth and seeing it through its entire life that cannot be beaten. However, there is also a degree of uncertainty to en primeur that while to me is part of the fun, I feel is not often enough acknowledged. Tasting notes and opinions on these wines are often written with certainty. Wines, and indeed entire vintages, are heralded as objectively magnificent or disappointing as if it were a matter of fact. As an example of why I try not to think this way, within one day of arriving in Bordeaux, one extremely experienced taster told me that he thought Pomerol was the outstanding appellation in 2022, and another said that this was an excellent vintage except that he was disappointed with Pomerol.
There is an inherent level of unpredictability in unfinished wines that means that we need to be careful about making concrete conclusions. I tasted wines this week that tasted one way one day, and another way another day. It’s important to clarify that this doesn’t mean that the process of tasting the wines at this stage is flawed or pointless. This is my fourteenth vintage tasting the barrel samples, and I would say that every year at this point I have formed an opinion of the quality and style of the vintage that has rarely changed very much as the wines have developed, except perhaps for the fact that initially, like many others, I underestimated 2011. The experience of regularly visiting Bordeaux has also consistently given me a good idea of which chateaux are on the move qualitatively or stylistically, and in which direction.
In short, while I am sometimes hesitant to give concrete opinions about specific wines at this stage, I am very confident in my ability to give a good read of the vintage as a whole, as well as to point out a few wines that particularly stand out.
The Growing Season
I never go into great detail about the weather in my vintage reports, as there are others out there that do this so much better than I ever could. I am no meteorologist. Winemaker Gavin Quinney writes a detailed annual weather report that is available here, or by searching on www.jancisrobinson.com. However, anyone talking about the 2022 vintage must start with the fact that it was very hot, hotter than anything since 2003. Perhaps the most notable and fascinating thing of all this year, though, is quite how massively different the wines seem to be from the 2003s. I suspect a lot of the difference is in the different approach to vine growing and winemaking today, in 2003 Bordeaux was all about power. Growers were training vines for maximum sun exposure, and winemakers were going for maximum intensity, concentration and extraction. Today, almost everyone is on board with the quest for finesse and freshness, starting with the way vines are planted and pruned, which makes a critical difference, and it shows in the wines across the board.
There are also a couple of significant differences in the two growing seasons weatherwise. 2003 was one extremely long and consistent heatwave throughout almost the entire summer. 2022 was a series of three much shorter waves, and fascinatingly, while the daily maximum temperatures were high throughout July and August, the daily minimums were almost entirely along the ‘average’ line of the past few decades. What this means is that there was a seriously high diurnal range—the difference between the daytime maximums and the nighttime minimums. Those of you with an interest in wine and weather will know that this is always seen as critical when it comes to producing wines of freshness in a warm climate. To my mind, 2003 did not do this, and 2022 did. William Kelley’s vintage report has only just been published by the Wine Advocate, but I see that he also comments on the stark differences between 2003 and 2022.
The Wines in General
So, here’s the crunch: 2022 is an all time classic. The only question is, what exactly does that mean? 2016 remains the one vintage I’ve tried that showed as pretty much perfect at this stage of development, an unquestionable ten out of ten vintage with knockout wines wherever you looked. I do not put 2022 on the same level as that, but it’s going to be somewhere alongside the other most celebrated vintages of the past decade or so. Think 2020, 2019, 2018, 2015, 2010, 2009. Where it will place on that ladder is going to be more subjective rather than objective.
I can pretty much guarantee that every critic report in every publication will stress that this vintage is ‘heterogenous’. However, look back over their reports of preceding years, and you will see that they all say this every year. Wine is very very rarely homogenous. Personally I think it’s important to generalize a bit, as long as we recognize the limitations of doing so. The ‘rule’ of 2022 does not apply to every single producer, but the pattern is that the wines have considerable structure, lots of very fine tannin, and a fresh finish. The alcohol levels are relatively high (generally between 14% and 15%), and PH levels are notably low, adding freshness and balance. As above, it is not a vintage where one could throw a dart at a price list and come up with a guaranteed winner, as 2016 was, but the best wines are certainly some of the best that I have ever tasted. The Wine Advocate has given eight potential 100 point scores (Canon, Carmes Haut Brion, Montrose, Figeac, Léoville Las Cases, Troplong Mondot, La Conseillante, and Latour) and six 99s. I don’t score wines personally, but if I did I would probably be giving similar numbers.It’s interesting that while this isn’t a ‘throw a dart’ vintage, the second (and even third and fourth) wines made at various estates were often among the best that I’ve ever tasted. This is a good indicator of the high level of quality of fruit available in 2022.
Often at this time of year, one or two parts of Bordeaux stand out above the rest, due to some slight climatic difference throughout the growing season. Sometimes the right bank is better than the left, or vice versa, sometimes it’s a single appellation. For example, in 2014 St Estèphe hugely overperformed what would have been expected given the overall quality of the vintage.
The truth is that while I am interested in what the critics have to say as more reports emerge, personally I didn’t find this in 2022, and differences seemed to be more between wines than appellations. That said, I was struck by how divisive the wines from Margaux seemed to be. A little like my hearing on my first day of tasting that Pomerol was both the best and worst performing appellation from two different sources, it seemed to me that most people either seemed to think Margaux was brilliant, or disappointing. My feeling is that the top wines here were among the most impressive anywhere: Château Margaux was perhaps my single favourite first growth. However, while there were lots of other excellent wines made in Margaux, I found many of them slightly stylistically different from the rest of Bordeaux, often with a slightly lighter (though still substantial, this is all relative…) body, and a more red fruited floral character. This is typical of the calling card of the appellation, and I generally found it worked well. However, I can also see that it perhaps made the 2022 tannins feel a little bigger and more aggressive in their youth than they did in other parts of Bordeaux that produced a slightly deeper, more voluptuous volume. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I can see why some people had these wines at the top and some at the bottom. Each to their own…
One important note is that Sauternes seems to be shockingly good this year. I mean ‘shockingly’ in the true sense of the word, as I wouldn’t have expected such a warm vintage to be conducive to making great sweet wine. However, I think what happened was that the warmth of the season imbued the wines with significant depth and mid-palate structure. They would have then been lacking botrytis and resulting freshness, but then along came just the right amount of rain at the right time in the fall, and those that waited long enough, which was most of the top estates, ended up with a wine that was dense, but super long, crisp and fresh too. I’m still waiting to see what the critics make of them, but I found them thrilling.
I have absolutely zero concerns here. The wines are well balanced despite elevated levels of most things, and have very well integrated tannins and acidity. If you have any birth years to commemorate from 2022 (as I do with my nephew…) you are in luck, as these will easily age for a generation.
The Wines, Some Specifics…
As above, I don’t like to go overboard with specifics on individual wines at this stage, but here are a few wines that I found particularly notable. This is far from exhaustive; there are many wines that I loved that I don’t really need to tell you I loved, as it will be pretty obvious how good they are from the scores and general acclaim that they will get. Below is a short illustrative list of wines with some thoughts I have about the vintage, and perhaps some things that go beyond what you might see in published tasting notes and scores.Château Margaux As above, my favourite of the first growths this year, so a good place to start, although I have the feeling others will have it at the bottom of their ranking of the firsts. I found this to be shockingly, stunningly well balanced. I heard others express that they thought it slightly overly tannic, but I found those tannins so superbly silky and fine that they reminded me of the greatest 2016s at this stage of life, which I believe are some of the greatest Bordeaux ever made. Ducru Beaucaillou Another slightly divisive wine due to tannin levels, but one that I thought was incredibly well made. I only make shorthand notes at winery visits, but at Ducru I see those notes read “Impossibly smooth. Some richness here, very dense, dark, intense. Super super fine tannins, delicious, epic long finish, stunning”. Sounds pretty good, huh? Lagrange and Langoa Barton Two wines under the same heading here as I could write almost exactly the same tasting note for both. Both showed a lively, bright, fruit forward nose that could easily deceive you into thinking that these would be delicate and gentle wines, but then followed up with a gorgeously deep, intense, smooth texture and a very long finish. Both superbly balanced, both made by brilliant teams at brilliant chateaux. I tip my hat to both, and both will be among the wisest purchases of the 2022 campaign. Montrose Often a favourite of mine en primeur, the 2022 is certainly no exception. Joyously alive, this is somehow floral, meaty and fruit forward all at the same time. Shoots off in all sorts of directions yet remains balanced, and even with a sense of elegance. This is not what people often associate with Montrose, but it tends to often show from the barrel, to then close down for a while and reappear with age. D’Issan I hate the propensity of critics to confidently label a wine the ‘best ever’, from any particular estate. How on earth can we compare a barrel sample of 2022 Château d’Issan to their 1928, 1947, 1959, 1961, 1982, 2016, let alone a couple of hundred other vintages all at once…However, what I would say is that this was certainly the most impressive futures sample of d’Issan that I have ever tried, in the context of the vintage. If I’d ranked each wine from each vintage I’ve tried from one to two hundred, which would have been a ridiculous thing to attempt, no d’Issan would have placed higher than the 2022. Combining a classical, savory style with a soft and silky texture. I absolutely loved this. Beau-Séjour Bécot I’ve been banging the drum for a few years for Beau-Séjour Bécot, and it’s honestly taken another huge leap forwards this year. It’s gone from one of the ‘wines on the rise’ on the right bank, to being a ‘wine at the top’. I’m not sure it really has any further to rise. Gorgeously, effortlessly elegant, with a sense of restraint and subtlety despite obvious brilliance. None of the very best things in life, or the best people, have to try too hard to show how good they are. If you haven’t already hopped aboard the bandwagon here, the clock may be ticking. Troplong Mondot The Wine Advocate has this as one of the potential one hundred pointers of the vintage, and I wouldn’t argue. It’s been wonderful to see the change at Troplong over the past few years, transitioning from a rich, possibly overblown and overworked bodybuilder of a wine, to one that does everything it can to hold itself back, knowing that the natural rich terroir here will push things as far as they need to go, without any help from humans. This currently has higher alcohol than I would normally ideally like in Bordeaux, at 15%, but it could be the perfect example of how it is possible to have a wonderful and balanced wine at that level. A masterpiece that needs to be tasted to be believed. Berliquet Under the same ownership group as Canon for several years now, this is the first time that I tasted the two wines side by side and felt that there wasn’t much between them. A massive jump forward, and very much in the Canon mold, with purity to the fore. I’m hopeful that this should be a bargain. La Conseillante Another Wine Advocate 100 pointer that I’m fully on board with. This has a deep, notably soft texture that I usually associate with richness but that comes across as beautifully floral and elegant. This is a great wine every year, but the 2022 seems to be a particularly mindblowing example.
Conclusion, and An Alternative…
I firmly believe that 2022 is a superb and exciting vintage. The alcohol levels that I suspect will concern people looking at this vintage from afar are mostly kept very nicely in check by the fascinating character of the vintage. The potential is absolutely sky high, and I suspect that there will be a number of wines from this vintage that will go down as legendary, and among the best ever made by a number of chateaux.
If you are concerned about the nature of the alcohol or the style of the vintage, I would implore you to take a fresh look at the 2021s. In general, 2021 seems to be an underrated vintage, and the style is much lighter than 2022, with lower alcohol levels. Last year I titled my 2021 report ‘The Time Machine’, as the vintage could almost have been plucked out of the 1990s or 1980s stylistically. If 2021 is a vintage from the past, however, 2022 is very much one of the present and the future. Once, in the heady, high-extraction, oak-heavy days of 2009 and 2010, the ‘future’ might have been a slightly scary place for Bordeaux lovers. Perhaps the future climate is scary in terms of what the weather is going to throw at the region, but the winemaking has never been in a better place, and the way that Bordeaux has adapted to the 2022 season is remarkably impressive, and admirable. Almost everyone is now focused on elegance and restraint, and the combination with the weather conditions in 2022 gives us one of the most fascinating vintages I have ever come across. Hence, this year, we’ll go with ‘Back to the Future’.
I am sure that 2022 will be a popular vintage for decades to come. I hope the prices are reasonable, I hope those of you reading this feel enthusiastic about the campaign, and I hope we can have many years of tasting and discussing them.
Cheers, Guy Davies Fine Wine Buyer Bordeaux Specialist
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